Posts Tagged ‘Fat Discrimination’

I’m seeing these terms, “Skinny Shaming” / “Thin Shaming” and “Fit Shaming” more and more online and honestly, I don’t get it.

What is wrong with the term “body shaming”? Why specify “skinny”, “thin” or “fit”? (that last one not being a body type though) That probably sounds a little hypocritical of me because I don’t have the same issue with “fat shaming”. But of course part of what bugs me about the “skinny shaming” et al is that they seem to be specifically used by many as a means of demonstrating that these things happen just as much, or more, to thin women as to fat women.

The thing is body shaming does happen to women of all sizes! And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone claim otherwise. And this relates to a long standing issue I’ve had with certain folks who try to claim that fat oppression is just an extension of sexism and not it’s own thing, and reduce it to body shaming. Because it’s not. Fat oppression is not just body shaming. Body shaming, and fat shaming, is an extension of that, but not all of it.

I’m also not bothered by fat shaming being called that and not just body shaming because, at least as I conceptualized the term, fat shaming is not just about the way an individual has their body attacked and mocked but also the way fat bodies are typically not represented or represented as disgusting or as jokes, within popular media. It has to do with the way fat bodies are presented as indicators of ill healtah, disease, laziness, and gluttony. How a fat body can in our society serve as a stand in for all those things. It has to do with the fear mongering around fat bodies that seek on a large scale level to shame people for being fat. And it connects with all other areas of fatphobia and fat oppression.

None of this means that body shaming is ok or doesn’t hurt at any body size. Of course it does. Body shaming of any body is wrong, it’s painful, and since we are typically talking women here- it is sexist too. It’s sexism that tells women our bodies are never good enough. It’s sexism that the body ideals we are fed are literally impossible for any woman to achieve (even the women in them do not look like that thanks to photoshopping). It’s sexism that we are taught the best way to cut a woman down is to attack her appearance or attractiveness. It’s sexism that  tells women our bodies are never good enough. It’s sexism that says we must always be attractive to men, and it’s sexism that we are taught that a woman’s worth is defined by men finding her attractive. It’s sexism that men think it matters whether or not they would want to fuck any particular woman (see comments on any photo of a woman on the internet with men commenting whether or not they would want to fuck her as if that is some great compliment or great insult, as if anyone actually gives a damn). It’s sexism that women tear each other down and feel they need to make other women feel unattractive in order to make themselves feel better.

It’s sexism, it’s vicious, it’s a problem, and all women face it.

And it is different than fat oppression. Fat oppression is having only thin bodies represented positively in popular media. Fat oppression is having thin bodies presented as healthy and as the default. Fat oppression is having fat bodies portrayed as indicators of ill health, disease, laziness and gluttony. Fat oppression is fat people receiving poorer quality healthcare because of this. Fat shaming can be having someone on the internet make negative comments about your fat body, and sure enough that happens all the time, but it’s also having your doctor treat you more poorly because you are fat. It’s being shamed by your doctor for daring to come in when you are fat, it’s being told not to come back until you lose weight, and it literally kills. Fat oppression is being discriminated against in employment. And while fat shaming can be negative comments online, it’s also negative comments from an employer, it’s being told that your weight is an indication of laziness and/or doesn’t represent a company well. It’s these things, and so many more things, that are targeted at fat people as a group because they are fat. That is fat oppression, that is fat shaming, which is not the sexist body shaming that all women experience. And inersectionality means that most aspects of fat oppression effect women far more than men, but they are not exclusive to women.

So to talk about fat shaming is to put that shaming within the context of fat oppression- within the larger social context. The same cannot be said for “skinny shaming”, “thin shaming”, or “fit shaming”. There is no larger social context of thin people being discriminated against in healthcare, employment, and other aspects of life because they are thin. The larger social context to those acts is sexism and body shaming, so just call it body shaming.

Body shaming is wrong, it’s harmful, it’s in no way ok or excusable. So why do folks feel the need to use a different word?

I really need to stop reading things some people say. I read a discussion online about weight discrimination in employment, and the usual comments about how weight discrimination in employment is justified came up.

So for purposes of this posts let’s go ahead and assume you can tell from looking at someone exactly what they eat and how much they workout (which isn’t true).

So the argument some people have made is that they would rather hire someone who looks “fit” than someone who is fat because you can tell that a “fit” person is organized (because they are organized enough to get to the gym and keep their nutrition in check), they are dedicated (because they are dedicated to working out and eating well), they will always be on time (because… I really don’t know?), are more social, so they will get along with people at the office (because… again I don’t see the connection)et cetera.

But what bugs me about this is the idea that dedication (organized, timely, whatever) can only mean one thing- dedication to your appearance.

Really? Because unless your job is built around working out or physical appearance, what does that dedication mean?

Even if we assume that a fat person by virtue of being fat cannot be dedicated and organized in regards to working out and what they eat, that doesn’t mean they aren’t dedicated to anything- like idk, maybe their job!

I mean, let’s assume all of these assumptions are true- by that logic employers should discriminate against people who look fit. After all, that much dedication to never missing a workout and always making them means they will probably be less willing to come in early and stay late (encroaching on gym time), work extra hours, work from home (too busy at the gym instead), and since they spend so much time at the gym they probably don’t have as much experience socializing outside a gym environment. Unlike that fat job candidate who is obviously willing to put other things, like their work, over working on how their body looks, and is probably a lot better at socializing over food at office parties and events.

Obviously those arguments are bullshit, but they are logically consistent with the assumptions being made about people based on appearance.

Dedication comes in many forms. I’ve mentioned before the issue of priorities. Not everyone’s priorities are the same. And that’s ok. According to the logic of this person if I take time away from work, research, and/or writing to work out that shows dedication. Well it shows dedication to my workout. It doesn’t show dedication to my work or research though. But if I skip a workout (which frankly, I often do) because I prioritize that time on getting work, research, and writing done, according to this person I’m not showing dedication to my career, because the only dedication that matters is dedication to working out and maintaining low body fat.

Though I’m a bit backward in organization, I’ve had several people comment that my home gym is the most organized part of my house. Meanwhile my home office is covered in boxes. Organized in one area does not always translate into organization in all areas.

Frankly, I think employers should consider me skipping workouts to work on things that will advance my career a good quality rather than prioritizing a dedication to maintaining low body fat, which has nothing to do with my career, at the expense of other things.

There are only so many hours in a day. All people cannot do all things. it would be great if i could fit in everything I need to all the time without having to sacrifice somewhere, but that’s not possible. So sometimes that means workouts get skipped because I have other things on my plate that take priority. That is not a lack of dedication or organization, it’s just a matter of prioritization.

So I just came across this article titled: Weight Discrimination Is Surprisingly Rare, Study Finds. My typical reaction to news articles about studies though is “is that really what the study found?” because news articles are terrible at reporting such things.

In this case, going based solely on the information provided in this article- no, that really isn’t what the study found.

The biggest problem is that this study was based on self reports of discrimination.

The participants — nearly 3,000 men and women 50 and older — were asked how often they encounter five discriminatory situations: “In your day-to-day life, how often have any of the following things happened to you: (1) you are treated with less respect or courtesy; (2) you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants and stores; (3) people act as if they think you are not clever; (4) you are threatened or harassed; and (5) you receive poorer service or treatment than other people from doctors or hospitals. Responses ranged from ‘never’ to ‘almost every day’.”

But there are a lot of problems with this. How do you know if you are being treated more poorly than other people?  Sometimes you might know because a person treats you obviously rudely and you can see that they treat others differently.

But what if you can’t see how they treat others? If a doctor treats you rudely, are you going to assume you’re being treated more rudely than other patients or assume the doctor is just generally rude? Anecdotally, it’s my experience people are more likely to just assume the doctor is generally rude.

And that assumes behavior that is clearly rude and can be easily identified as such.

Look at studies of attitudes and behaviors of physicians and you can see that many do report bias against fat patients and treat them differently. “More than 50% of physicians viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.” Along with having more negative views of overweight and obese patients, doctors have also been shown to have less emotional rapport with overweight and obese patients. When medical students were asked to provide recommendations for virtual patients, identical except for weight/BMI, “[s]tudents revealed more negative stereotyping, less anticipated patient adherence, worse perceived health, more responsibility attributed for potentially weight-related presenting complaints and less visual contact directed toward the obese version of a virtual patient than the non-obese version of the patient.” Weight has also shown to relate to what activities doctors spend time during visits on, with doctors spending less time educating obese patients about their health. And this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of research showing weight bias among health care providers.

But if you are a patient how will you know if your doctor is spending less time educating you on your health condition than their thin patients? How do you know your doctor has more emotional rapport with thin patients? If your doctor never explicitly states anything negative about you or your weight but in subtle ways treats you differently due to negative bias how would you know you are being treated that way because of weight? In fact- often they don’t even realize they are treating patients different or even that they posses these biases. We all typically have biases we are not consciously aware of, yet they still impact our actions.

So expecting to capture this all in self-reports is misleading.

If you go by self-report we would miss a lot of discrimination, not jut of weight, but lots of issues.

It reminds me of something that happened in high school that I will never forget. Me and a few friends were heading out to hang out in Canada, and crossing the border. After we got through the checkpoint area I commented on it being so ridiculous the way the officers at the border acted suspicious of us and our relationship to each other (friends). I’m white, one of my friends is Indian and another is black and Puerto Rican. They told me I was crazy, that’s just standard “dong their job” for people who work at the border. And it dawned on me the difference in our perception- it was ridiculous to me because I knew from experience that if I was in a car with only other white people, they would not have acted that way. My friends had never been with an all white group crossing the border, because their presence would have automatically made the group no longer all white. If the only experience we have is with our own identify present, we can’t always know how our identity influences it. That’s why studies that actually document the differences are helpful.

Look at any area of discrimination and you will find that. We don’t always know it’s happening or why it is. If I get passed over for a job I have no idea if it’s because there was someone more qualified than me, or I’m being discriminated against due to my gender, or I’m being discriminated against due to my sexual orientation (which an employer can learn from googling me, or can assume by seeing that I’ve work with lgbtq organizations on my resume), or I’m being discriminated against because of my weight, or any other reason actually! I just know I never got called back for the job.

You cannot expect to capture the true frequency of discrimination based on self-reports.

Even the study’s authors offer another potential issue with the self-report data:

Jackson added that “research suggests that many overweight people don’t perceive themselves to be overweight, perhaps due to normalization of carrying excess weight. If people do not perceive themselves to be overweight one might expect them to be less likely to attribute experiences of discrimination to their weight.”

As well, they did not only study overweight and obese patients so the results are also including individuals who are “normal weight”.

I also see no indication that they analyzed the data by gender, which is significant since women are more likely to experience discrimination due to weight than men.